Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pam Munoz Ryan and those Abba Zaba wrappers

We Southern Californians do occasionally enjoy a literary event now and then, and one of my favorites is the annual FOCAL Award luncheon. FOCAL (Friends of Children and Literature) supports and enriches the programs and resources of the Children's Literature Department of the Los Angeles Public Library's Central Library - so it is essentially an extra-special Friends group.

Every year FOCAL presents an award to a distinguished book with California content, the only requirement being that the author be alive to accept the award. Each year, a handmade puppet (created by the talented Carol Onofrio) is given to the recipient; a twin of the puppet is given to the Children's Literature Department. In 2008, the award was given to Pam Munoz Ryan for Esperanza Rising, and we enjoyed lunch at Ciudad restaurant and a delightfully succinct and hugely entertaining speech by Ms. Ryan.

After thanking the committee for this unexpected recognition of Esperanza Rising almost 10 years after its publication (the cool thing about the FOCAL Award is that the winning book be from any year, with that "alive and kicking author" stipulation), Ms. Ryan told us that when she informed her marketing director at Scholastic about the award, this person mock-groaned, "Oh, we are so over that book."

We librarians in the audience may never look at a candy wrapper wadded up on a bookshelf in the same way again. Ms. Ryan informed us that her first exposure to the public library came when, as an almost-5th-grader seeking air-conditioned respite from the searing heat of a Bakersfield summer, she discovered that the library was the perfect place to eat her Abba Zabas in cool comfort. Oh, and she read some books, too. In fact, she surmises that the librarians overlooked her breaking of the strict no-food policy in order to hook her on books.

And what does Ms. Ryan read? Everything from children's and YA books to romance novels to literary tomes. While she didn't divulge any ALA Award predictions, she did express huge admiration for Susan Campbell Bartoletti's The Boy Who Dared and hoped it would receive some recognition.

I have some great news for Pam Munoz Ryan fans! A novel based on the childhood of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda will be published in Spring 2010 - and it will have 30 illustrations by Peter Sis! This will be hard to wait for. Oh, and she has started work on a companion novel to Esperanza Rising - no dates or further information yet.

Here we are, looking a bit dazed and happy after a very large lunch. Ms. Ryan is the attractive one who looks WAY too young to be a grandmother. I'm the graying one with the chic name sticker.

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